"People have lost interest in spaceflight," says James Lewis, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer and now senior fellow for technology and policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "You hear complaints even in China that the money would be better spent on the ground on healthcare and social services."
Some experts believe the decisions to be made on spaceflight in the coming decades could determine the fate of the entire human race. Some scientists, such as British physicist Stephen Hawking, have long warned that unless mankind moves beyond a single planet it risks extinction from either nuclear war or a natural catastrophe such as a meteorite impact.
"I think it's essentially a binary choice," says John Logsdon, veteran space historian and now a professor at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. "In 50 years time, we will either have Antarctica-style research stations elsewhere in the solar system or the era of government-funded manned space exploration will be over for good."
For now, many doubt private firms
will ever find an economic argument for true deep space travel. But whatever the method, astronaut Chiao remains broadly optimistic.
"At the time of the moon landings, you would have thought we would already be on Mars by now," he says. "I still think we will get there, although it is taking a lot longer. If we did not, it would be a real tragedy."
But using sophisticated mathematical techniques, Miller and his co-authors found evidence that the LR apparatus had detected life. Still, according to NatGeo, the researchers conceded that their study isn't enough to prove there's life on Mars. Miller told the magazine he didn't expect people to be convinced of Martian life until they could see a video of Martian microbes in a petri dish.
"But for some reason, NASA has never flown a microscope that would let you do something like that," he said.
The full study
Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments